The government estimates that there are between 2.4-million and 3.5-million SMMEs in South Africa.

While the majority of these occur in the informal sector, about a million SMMEs are formal entities. Given the significant role small, medium and micro enterprises already play in the economy, it is little wonder that the state views this sector as a channel for further growth and development.

Significant investment is being made in the Department of Small Business Development’s Business Viability Programme, for example. This aims to support SMMEs, including cooperatives, to overcome both financial and non-financial constraints to achieve operational efficiency.

The success of these programmes is heavily dependent on formalisation. It stands to reason that the more businesses are formalised, the greater their contribution will be to the economy.

The implementation of structured processes and adherence to policies bring about consistency, with the result that the entity performs optimally and becomes competitive in its market.

Standardisation procedures through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are excellent for this purpose.

Muhammad Ali, MD of ISO specialist World Wide Industrial & Systems Engineers (WWISE), says implementing ISO standards creates structure and governance with a process/risk-based approach to achieving goals and objectives.

“The standard provides a set of requirements for integrating activities, processes and systems. It creates a methodical and systematic way of establishing control and structure,” Ali says.

“From an external perspective, it provides assurances about consistent product quality and services that are delivered in a safe, secure and environmentally sensitive way. As such, confidence among clients grows.”

The range of standards available to SMMEs to improve operations, products or services is extensive. Among these are:

  • ISO 9001 (Quality): Applicable to all industries as the baseline product and service qualifier.
  • ISO 14001 (Environmental): Applicable to all industries and is aligned to the National Environmental Management Act.
  • ISO 45001 (Health & Safety): Applicable to all industries.
  • ISO/FSSC 22 000 (Food Safety): Applicable to manufacturers, distributors and food-centred businesses.
  • ISO 22301 (Business Continuity): Applicable to all industries.

What some SMME and Qualifying Small Enterprise (QSE) owners may not be aware of is that the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) can assist them in this process if they cannot afford the services of a standards consultant or implementation partner.

This is done through the SEDA Technology Programme (STP).

“The STP will evaluate the request according to prescribed criteria and conduct an onsite audit to verify and validate the business request,” Ali explains.

“This grant is then sent on for a Request for Quote from reputable consultants and implementers to bid and allow the consulting firm to engage with the client to implement a system. The STP insists on a timeline and deliverables and, once the process is completed, an audit will be undertaken by the STP before the consultant is paid.”

An additional grant is offered to assist during the year-long certification process.

The STP offers a Technology Transfer Fund (machinery or equipment valued at between R600 000 to R1-million); Incubation (a mentor to guide the SMME through the process to achieve objectives); and ISO Systems Implementation (the grant to assist in the implementation of ISO standards and SABS schemes to ensure best practice in products and services).

Certification bodies make evaluations based on principles that relate to customer focus, leadership, people engagement, process approach, improvement, evidence-based decision-making and relationship management, among others.

“Once a certificate for an ISO standard is established and maintained, it creates assurance to customers and suppliers that the organisation is reputable,” Ali says.